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The New Deal and the Modernization of the South

Aug 2009
Working Paper
08-042
By  Gavin Wright
This paper considers the impact of New Deal programs on the economy of the American South. Through investments in infrastructure (roads and electric power), environmental improvements (reforestation and soil conservation), and advances in public health (sanitation facilities and disease eradication), the federal government kickstarted modern economic development in the South. Although World War II is often identified as the turning point for regional growth, it is argued here that wartime policies were in many ways a continuation of the region-building programs of the 1930s. There was no automatic connection, however, between economic modernization and liberalization of the South’s racial regime, which if anything became even more entrenched during this era. This perhaps-surprising proposition may be illustrated by an examination of two showcase New Deal programs: the TVA and the GI Bill.